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Issue 2 backers launch ad campaign for legal marijuana using Ohio-Michigan rivalry

Signs for and against Ohio’s Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana use if passed, are displayed in Central Ohio in this collage.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Signs for and against Ohio’s Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana use if passed, are displayed in Central Ohio in this collage.

 The campaign to pass Issue 2, the law on the November ballot to legalize marijuana sales and use for Ohioans over 21, has been relatively quiet when compared to the failed legalization attempt in 2015. There haven't been any mascots, no big rallies and no advertising blitz.

But supporters of Issue 2 are breaking that silence with a new ad.

Just weeks before the Ohio State-Michigan game, backers of Issue 2 plan to air an ad that capitalizes on beating Michigan economically by bringing tax dollars Ohioans spend there on marijuana back home.

The ad says, "Ohioans are flocking to Michigan to buy marijuana," and features Morenci, Michigan, a small town of 2,000 residents on the Ohio border. It boasts five marijuana shops that the ad says are frequented by Ohioans.

"People in Ohio right now are using marijuana," said Tom Haren, the spokesman for the Committee to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, the coalition supporting Issue 2. "They are just either buying it from drug dealers or buying it from a Michigan dispensary."

If Issue 2 passes, marijuana would be legalized in Ohio, and the Ohio Department of Commerce would be charged with regulating the industry. There would be a 10% tax on marijuana sold in addition to local sales taxes. Revenues would be directed to communities that have dispensaries, a social equity and jobs fund, addiction services, and the cost of overseeing and regulating the industry. Though Michigan also has a 10% tax on marijuana, Haren said the combination of state and local taxes would mean Ohio would tax marijuana at a rate higher than the effective tax rate in Michigan.

A recent Ohio State University study estimates Issue 2 could generate as much as $218 million from marijuana taxes in its first year.

Haren isn't saying how much is being spent on the ads. But he he said the ad buy is comprehensive.

"This is an ad that is going to run statewide on television, devices, streaming services," Haren said.

Opponents of the marijuana legalization effort said it would create more problems for Ohio.

Protect Ohio Workers and Families, the main group against Issue 2, includes children's hospitals, police agencies and business groups. And the measure is opposed by the Ohio Republican Party. Gov. Mike DeWine said, "It would be a mistake" to approve Issue 2 because it would send the wrong message to children and could pose a danger to them. Opponents have also said passage of the law would lead to more traffic deaths and workplaces that are less safe.

Some Republican state lawmakers have said they would likely change some parts of the proposal if it passes. And they could do that since Issue 2 is an initiated statute that creates a new law and not a constitutional amendment that politicians could not change.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.